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Thirty six hours, groanin' in pain

Prayin' to someone, free me again

Oh I'll be a good boy, please make me well

I promise you anything, get me out of this hell

Cold turkey has got me on the run.
John Lennon, "Cold Turkey"

In Real Life, breaking free of a drug addiction can be a lengthy process--for certain addictions, it may take months and require medical supervision. For some substances, going cold turkey in real life can be dangerous. In fiction, however, people routinely overcome their substance habit by going through a single self-imposed (and often painful) withdrawal phase, after which they are no longer addicted. Frequently involves locking oneself up in a room or chaining oneself to a bed.

While quitting some drugs (primarily alcohol) cold turkey can become medical issues due to physical withdrawal symptoms, for others (nicotine, cocaine, opiates, etc.) this trope becomes Truth in Television.

See also Cold Turkeys Are Everywhere and Off the Wagon.

Examples of Going Cold Turkey include:

Comic Books

  • Originally, Green Arrow's sidekick Speedy kicked his heroin addiction after a couple of days of going cold turkey under Black Canary's supervision. Later stories have added in hospital time and detox programs.
  • Batman overcame an addiction to venom by locking himself in the Batcave for a month.
  • Alan Quartermain in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was forcibly made to go cold turkey to kick his opium addiction. The fact that he's locked in a submarine and encounters at least one unpleasant sea creature through his portcullis whilst going through withdrawal symptoms doesn't help matters.
  • Tony Stark goes through this in the Iron Man storyline "Demon in a Bottle".


  • Trainspotting. It doesn't work for long, however.
  • The Basketball Diaries : It doesn't work for long either.
  • The Good Thief: Bob (played by Nick Nolte, who has himself struggled with drug addiction in Real Life), overcomes his heroin habit by chaining himself to a bed.
  • The father in Frequency quits smoking cold-turkey, so far as it is shown.
  • The Man With The Golden Arm: Ol' Blue Eyes has a rather harrowing one of these, especially for a film made in 1955.
  • Norman Lear's comedy Cold Turkey (1971) has an entire town attempting to give up smoking this way in order to win a multimillion dollar prize from a tobacco company.


  • In Dan Simmons' The Terror the main character does this with alcoholism and nearly dies in the process.
  • Eddie Dean in The Dark Tower (the second book in Stephen King's The Dark Tower series) involuntarily kicks heroin cold turkey after being drawn into Roland's world (which is a very painful process for him, and once drives him close to suicide). Admirably, he does not pick it up again after gaining access to Earth, and by extension, the drug.
  • At one point in the Lensman series, Kimball Kinnison needed to go undercover as an alcoholic drug addict ... and the Boskonians would know exactly what he was drinking/taking, so Frothy Mugs of Water are out. After several spectacular binges, he heads back to base with the information he was after. By the time he arrives, he's completely eliminated both the physical and psychological cravings via cold turkey. Granted, if anyone can willpower the psychological part of addiction away, it's a Second Stage Lensman.
  • In The Glass Castle, Jeanette Walls describes how her father attempted to break his alcohol addiction this way, complete with tying himself to his bed. He spends several days screaming and hallucinating. He does stop drinking for awhile, but before long picks it up again.
  • Mischa in the Second Sons trilogy goes completely cold turkey off of opium, which he was intentionally addicted to as a child to keep him under control.

Live Action TV

  • Sabrina the Teenage Witch
    • With pancakes.
  • Charlie on Lost. When you're trapped on a desert island, going cold turkey is really the only option, but he seemed to get over his addiction to heroin pretty smoothly, considering, and even throws his remaining stash into the fire. Unfortunately, another plane is found by the survivors that just happened to be full of smuggled heroin. He finally manages to get rid of that, too, though.
  • Subverted in Kenny vs. Spenny: Kenny had to act like he was going cold turkey because he pretended to be seriously addicted.
  • Subverted in Royal Pains: Mr. Bryant insists that he can "detox" from his drug addiction alone, and quits cold-turkey in a painful withdrawal montage. At the end of the episode, though, his son catches him sneaking pills again and takes him to a reputable rehab facility.
  • My Name Is Earl: Earl forces an old woman (and himself) to quit nicotine cold turkey.
  • Leverage: subverted in the first season's "The Twelve-Step Job" when, after a forced stint in rehab and a fair amount of withdrawal, Nate ends the episode with the line "I'm ready for a drink." Averted in season two when it's clear that even though Nate has quit drinking, he's still an addict and trying to control everything.
  • This is what Starsky and Hutch do after a criminal forcibly hooks Hutch on heroin in the episode "The Fix".
  • When Daniel Jackson becomes addicted to the sarcophagus in the Stargate SG-1 episode "Need," he goes through a painful and nearly fatal withdrawal when he's prevented from using it again. In a variation, his detox stage isn't one that he enters voluntarily, and he's strapped to an infirmary bed until the worst of the symptoms are over. Or at least that was the plan; he gets loose and injures multiple people before Jack talks him into rejecting the sarcophagus. After this episode, sarcophagus addiction never comes up again except for a brief mention in season six and seven. No one from the SGC ever uses a sarcophagus again either, except for when Ba'al uses one to torture Jack.
  • In Supernatural Dean and Bobby hold an intervention to try and break Sam's addiction to demon blood this way. Due to the nature of his addiction it involves him hallucinating numerous people as they harangue, torture, or make excuses for him, spasms, hallucinating dark marks appearing on his skin, and actually being telekinetically hurled about the room.
  • In one episode of The Colbert Report Stephen Colbert advised heroin addicts to break their addictions the same way he did, chaining himself to a radiator for two weeks with a supply of chocolate bars, warning them that during that time they may hallucinate a bat eating a baby.
  • House does this three times. The first time he stops taking his beloved Vicodin, he has rather strong withdrawal symptoms and ultimately admits to himself that he is an addict, but decides to keep it that way because he doesn't see it as a problem. The second time he doesn't have any symptoms whatsoever, but in the next episode it turns out that it was a hallucination and that he was on Vicodin the whole time. The third time is during a stay in a rehab clinic, which made him abandon his drug addiction.
  • In My Hero (TV), George attempts to go "cold porky" from pork scratchings (Which gives his alien brain super-intelligence, but turns him into a jerk).
  • On The Nanny, Fran becomes addicted ordering junk from the Home Shopping Network when her ex-fiance gets engaged again. Maxwell stays with her all night to make sure she's cured of her addiction come the morning.


Musical Theatre

  • This is heavinly averted in the film version of Rent. Although Mimi's attempt to quit cold turkey is treated in only one song, it's shown as a difficult and painful process. She also fails, and goes back to her dealer at the end of the song.

Real Life

  • American soldier/actor Audie Murphy became dependent on doctor-prescribed sleeping pills called Placidyl. To combat his addiction, he locked himself in a hotel room for a week and just got over it.
    • Of course for Audie Murphy defeating a drug addiction through sheer willpower was par for the course.
  • Note for the harder drugs this is not only a bad idea but could be a lethal one. Heroin Addicts that want to quit, normally have to be addicted to something else (like Methadone) then something else then they can quit. Opioid withdrawal could be considerd A Fate Worse Than Death.
    • Opiate withdrawal is (very) unpleasant. Sudden withdrawal of sedative-hypnotics (alcohol, benzodiazepine or barbiturates) can be fatal. Oh, and by some accounts methadone is even harder to quit than heroin.
    • Theodore Dalrymple's Romancing the Opiates discusses the difficulty of opiate withdrawal. Any number of people have done so without medical assistance. It is not dangerous, and the pains are greatly exaggerated by addicts who simply would rather go on taking the drug.

Video Games

  • Heavy Rain: One of the protagonists is addicted to Triptocaine. You can choose to either quit cold turkey or support his habit. Going without it is an incredibly painful proccess for him (even though it manages to span only four days). As it turns out, quitting the drug makes him even more unstable. Way to go.
  • In the Fallout 1, 2 and tactics, it is the only way to get free of a drug addiction. It takes between one and two weeks to do so, and incurs a heavy stat penalty until you get over it. Jet is the only drug you can't quit (Even Psycho addiction can be fought going cold turkey).
    • In Fallout 3 addiction can only be cured by a doctor or you home chemistry set.
  • In Scarface the World Is Yours, Tony Montana has apparently dropped his cocaine habit according to a brief piece of dialogue:

  "Yeyo — that shit make you crazy, man. Never again."

    • Of course, he still has no problem selling it by the truckload.
      • Could be that he just went to follow the most important rule of drug dealing: Don't get high on your own supply. Disregarding that rule didn't go so well for him in the original movie, after all.
  • An odd example is using tactics in video games. An easy way to see this is in a fighting game. It's not as bad or long as drugs, but depending on the player, suddenly restricting a certain tactic, move, or weapon may evoke a response that is similar to quitting cold turkey in a player. Mainly it will be rage or temporary emotional instability until the person in question can either get on with playing with another thing, or get the missing thing back. Again, it varies from player to player but if you a bunch of gaming friends then you should be able to see this at least once.

Web Comics

Western Animation

  • The Penguins of Madagascar - "Two Feet High and Rising" - To prevent King Julian from banishing Mort, Marlene brings him to the penguins to help him overcome his crazed obsession over King Julian's feet. Using conditioning to equate the touching of feet with electrical shocks, Mort gradually becomes "100% lemur foot-phobic". However, for the sake of status-quo, this is all undone towards the end of the episode.
  • King of the Hill - When Hank catches Bobby smoking a cigarette, he punishes him by forcing him to smoke an entire carton. The plan backfires when Bobby instead becomes more addicted, while the situation makes Hank and Peggy take up smoking again for relaxation. After days without a cigarette, Hank, Peggy, and Bobby are cranky and ready to kill one another, until they discover one stray cigarette in the house. After they fight over it, Luanne, having had enough, locks the three of them inside Hank and Peggy's bedroom until they finally beat their addiction. In the morning they all thank Luanne for helping them through it.
  • Cat Dog - To make preparations for a dancing competition, Cat puts an overweight Dog on a diet so he will be fit enough for the competition. This was often met with many setbacks whenever Dog kept hidden stashes of food, which he ate while exercising. Eventually, under threat of disqualification, Dog relents and loses enough weight for the competition. This backfires where a starving Dog finally breaks and proceeds to devour not only the buffet, but the entire theatre!